A/N: Okay. So. This is set after Wait for the Song to Stop. So things are kept relatively unconfused, the chronology of these oneshots is: On Three, Wait for the Song to Stop, Women, Promises, and Not On Three, which will be up sometime over the next week or so. I think Not On Three will be the last one in this universe, because I think they'll be rather difficult to write after that. Anyway. I hope you guys enjoy this one. Before the Dawn will updated in a few hours as well. So yeah, enjoy!
She wondered whether she'd be in trouble if she was caught. She wasn't technically a student anymore, she was a graduate. However, she was still wary enough of Apollyon Pringle to have cast a Disillusionment Charm over herself, and she wished that she had the Marauder's Map to hand, to keep her heart from racing every time she heard a portrait grunt in their sleep or the whistle of a breeze through a crack in the wall.
The Marauder's Map hadn't even been thought of yet.
The Marauders themselves hadn't even been thought of yet.
She smiled to herself. Even after all this time, she was still finding ways to send her brain into overdrive.
Her stomach rumbled loudly and she started, a small gasp escaping her mouth as she squinted through the darkness to see if anybody was there. If they were, there was no way on earth that they couldn't have heard the loud growl emitted by her gut, she was sure it was loud enough to wake the entire castle.
But she was just being paranoid. There was no one around, and stomachs didn't rumble loudly enough to disturb people who were protected by thick stone walls.
She continued down the corridor, then quietly descended the stairs.
Her heart stopped as she heard a noise, and she leaned over the bannister, to see the dim orange glow of Apollyon Pringle's lantern, swinging in the dark. It was getting closer. He was climbing the stairs. Hermione prayed he would leave the staircase to patrol the second floor corridor, but she had no such luck. He continued to climb, unknowingly staring straight at her, his heavy footfalls echoing around the castle. She backed up the stairs, concentrating every particle of her being on not tripping over, and eventually, she reached flat ground, and pressed herself against the nearest wall, holding her breath as he passed, muttering to himself.
Hermione sighed, her eyes fluttering shut in relief as he disappeared down the corridor, and she began to descend the stairs once more.
Five minutes later, she winced as the painted pear she had just tickled chuckled loudly, and the second it morphed into a door handle, she wrenched the portrait open and threw herself inside the kitchens, removing her Disillusionment Charm.
Hermione jumped about a foot in the air, and turned to see Tom, sitting at the square wooden table at the edge of the room, raising an ornate china cup at her in greeting. He took a sip of his tea and placed the cup back on its saucer, before examining the large silver platter of vol-au-vents in front of him, his hand hovering in mid air. After making his decision, his long fingers plucked a vol-au-vent off of the platter and he took a bite from it, closing his eyes contentedly.
"What can we be getting you, Miss?"
Hermione looked down to see a house elf standing before her, its fluffy Hogwarts towel sparklingly clean and well cared for. "Erm," she said, knowing only that she was hungry, not what she wanted.
"Did Miss skip dinner?" the elf said knowingly, its hands on its hips, while the large, tennis ball shaped eyes gave her a reproving look.
"Maybe a little..." Hermione said quietly, unable to shake off the feeling that she was being told off.
"Very well, Miss!" the elf said brightly, then it trotted away quite cheerfully, and began to prepare some food for her.
Tom gestured a hand towards the seat opposite him, and Hermione sat down, not saying a word.
"Vol-au-vent?" he asked, pushing the platter towards her.
She shook her head, and he waved his wand, conjuring a cup and saucer to match his own. He took the teapot on the table and filled the cup, before sliding it across the table towards Hermione. She looked at it suspiciously.
"Remember your manners, Hermione. Drink up."
Hadn't Tom used tea to poison Hepzibah Smith? Hadn't poor Hokey the house elf gotten the blame for it?
Would some poor Hogwarts house elf get the blame for Hermione's death?
No, she decided, as she sipped the tea. She was just being paranoid.
But then this was the future Dark Lord she was dealing with.
Although, his terrifying status was thrown into doubt by the image of him sipping tea and steadily making his way through an entire platter of vol-au-vents.
"D'you think you'll still have time for those when you're older?" Hermione asked, nodding towards the platter.
Tom shrugged. "I don't know how to make them. So I'm taking advantage of my last night in the castle. But never mind that, why did you skip dinner?"
"I was..." Hermione trailed off, not wanting to admit her defeat to him. "I thought I'd found a way back. But I hadn't."
Tom nodded, but said nothing. There was no smirk of satisfaction, no superior look on his face. He was more concerned by his next choice of vol-au-vent.
"Where will you go now?" he asked, not bothering to look up from the platter. "I don't suppose you have anywhere to stay, do you?"
"I'm staying here."
"What?" he dropped the vol-au-vent in his hand and looked outraged. "You're staying at Hogwarts?"
"How come you're allowed? Has Dippet given you a teaching job?"
Hermione shook her head. "I'm allowed because I don't have anywhere to go. Dumbledore's not going to let Dippet throw me out onto the street. Not that Dippet would have, I'm sure."
"But I don't have anywhere to go."
"You have the orphanage."
"That's not a home," he said hotly.
"It's a roof above your head. It's more than I have."
"How is it more than you have? You've got a bloody castle."
"More than I would have had then."
Tom stood abruptly. "I'm going to see Dippet."
"He won't relent. Especially not if you wake him up at two o'clock in the morning."
Tom sat down again, his face contorted with suppressed rage, his hands balling into fists. "I can't believe him! I'm Head Boy, I saved the school from Slytherin's monster -"
"You set the monster on the students and killed Myrtle. I think there's a difference."
"But he doesn't know that," Tom spat back. "As far as he's concerned I'm an angel. He won't let me stay but he'll let you stay just because you were stupid enough to get yourself thrown back in time?"
Hermione simply looked at him.
"Here you are, Miss!" the house elf slid a tray onto the table in front of Hermione and she began to eat, ignoring Tom's sulky expression. Eventually, he began to pick at the vol-au-vents again.
"Will you do your seventh year again if you go back?"
"Probably," Hermione said. "It depends if I get back to where I left off."
He nodded. "So you're going to get to stay here even longer than everybody else."
"You're jealous that I'm going to have to redo my seventh year?" Hermione asked incredulously, setting down her fork. "I'm going to have to do my NEWTs all over again and you're jealous?"
"You get to stay in the castle," he said quietly. "I'm jealous of that."
"Well maybe if you were a better man you would have got that teaching job eventually."
Tom shot her a dark look, and evidently the Headmaster's refusal to employ him still rankled.
Once Hermione was full and content, she pushed the tray away from her and sat back in her chair, drinking her tea quietly. Tom had finished off his vol-au-vents and was watching her carefully, as though expecting something from her. Hermione had no idea what, though she was quite sure he wouldn't get it. All she could think of now was returning to her dormitory and settling down to sleep for the last time in that four poster bed she had grown so fond of. She would be moving to a new set of quarters tomorrow, after the other students had left, and she would even have her own fireplace so she could floo in and out of work. Once she got a job, that was.
Her feeling of contentment lessened.
She hoped she'd make it back soon.
"Master Riddle, you is going to be a chubby boy if you is going to scoff like that," the house elf said, clearing Tom's tray away.
Hermione smirked, while Tom's dark look only intensified. He fingered his wand softly, as though wondering whether he ought to hex the house elf, but apparently he decided that would put a downer on his last night in the castle, and scupper any chances he had of ever returning.
She soon found that her eyelids were growing heavy, and that she was stifling more and more yawns. Hermione got to her feet, stretched, and bade goodnight to Tom.
"I'll come with you," he said, his chair legs scraping on the floor as he stood. He followed Hermione up the stone steps to the door, and they went through it.
Hermione's eyes took a short while to adjust to the darkness, after spending so long in the brightly lit kitchen. Coloured spots floated across her vision until eventually she could make out the staircase ahead of her.
"Do we still get in trouble even though we've graduated?" she asked in a whisper, her hand holding onto the bannister as she climbed, stumbling slightly in the dark.
"I'm Head Boy, I don't get in trouble," Tom said quietly. "I can always escort you back to the tower, if you're scared."
"I'm not scared," she hissed. "I can cast a Disillusionment Charm so good that Pringle was looking straight through me on my way down here. I'm just curious."
Tom said nothing, and when they reached the corridor above, Hermione stumbled, misjudging the amount of steps. Tom caught her firmly by the upper arm, his fingers clenched around her in a vice like grip, and he straightened her up.
"Graduates though we may be," he said, "I don't think showing up at the hospital wing at this hour with every bone in your face broken will do your reputation too much good."
Hermione took a deep breath, steeling herself for the word that must come. She always had difficulty saying it to him.
"My pleasure," he replied, in that low tone that made Hermione realise he was smirking broadly.
They continued along the corridor, Hermione narrowing her eyes in the darkness, though it wasn't much use. Tom seemed to have much better night vision, for he didn't trip once. She fought the urge to hold onto him. Murderer though he may be, she wasn't so fussy that she'd refuse to use him to keep herself from falling over.
Tom stopped abruptly in front of her, and Hermione walked straight into him. He clamped a hand over her mouth to keep her from crying out, and her heart began to hammer in her chest, her breathing heavy as she struggled against him.
"Stop!" he hissed. "Stop! I'm trying to listen!"
Hermione stopped, and his grip on her loosened, just a little. She listened hard, and then she heard it, only faintly, but growing louder by the second; heavy lumbering footsteps, laboured breathing, amplified by the arched ceiling. She could see an orange glow growing brighter towards the end of the corridor, and realised that Apollyon Pringle was coming their way.
Tom acted quickly, wrenching open the door of the nearest classroom, careful not to let it rebound and bang against the wall. He grabbed Hermione by the scruff of her pyjamas and threw her inside, following quickly, closing the door behind him with a quiet snap, pulling out his wand, and locking the door.
While Pringle, unlike Filch, could do magic, Hermione knew that there was no way in hell he would be getting through that door.
The thought did not make her feel safer.
"I thought Head Boys didn't get in trouble," Hermione breathed, not daring to raise her voice, even to a whisper.
"They don't," Tom murmured. "Because they don't get caught." He pressed his ear against the heavy wooden door, holding up a finger when Hermione opened her mouth to speak. She fell silent, folding her arms across her stomach, and sitting herself down on the large teacher's desk.
Tom leapt away from the door.
"He knows someone's here." He backed further away, joining Hermione on the desk, his wand out and his eyes fixed on the door. They both started as the handle rattled, and Hermione's gasp was lost in the racket of Pringle shaking the door, trying to gain entry.
"He won't get in," Tom said.
"And what if he does?"
"But what if he goes and wakes Dumbledore?"
"Dumbledore won't do anything, especially not to you." There was a hint of bitterness, even jealousy in his voice, and it was Hermione who smirked now.
The satisfaction vanished from her face when she saw light pouring in through the keyhole.
Tom sniggered. "Alohomora," he said, "Honestly."
Tom fell silent, and the door shuddered. Evidently Pringle had thrown himself at it. They could now hear him swearing, quite loudly, and the door gave another shudder.
"I know you're in there," he leered. Hermione's skin crawled at the excitement in his oily voice. "You'll be hanging by your ankles in the dungeons until the train leaves, just you wait."
Hermione looked at Tom, and he arched one dark eyebrow.
"I think perhaps he'll be hanging by his ankles in the dungeons, should he carry on like that."
If she was being absolutely honest, Hermione rather liked the idea of that. A Stunning Spell and a Memory Charm could do it, and the pair of them were more than capable of taking him on.
The keyhole was illuminated once more, and Tom shook his head in amusement.
"We could be waiting here all night!" Hermione whispered, turning her head to look at him.
Tom faced her, and in all the panic, Hermione hadn't realised how very close they were sitting next to each other. His face was inches from hers, and then, without warning, he closed the gap, pressing his lips against her own.
Hermione pulled away from him sharply. "What are you doing?"
Tom shrugged. "I was curious."
"I've never done it before. And Arcturus and the others are always talking about it."
Hermione felt a pang of...she didn't know quite what. Not sympathy. She doubted very much that she would ever be able to sympathise with Lord Voldemort, no matter what rites of passage he had missed out on. It wasn't quite pity, either. Tom Riddle did not attract pity, it was something else, and she spent so long considering this that when Tom went in for a second attempt, she missed her opportunity to dart out of the way.
He was prepared for her reluctance this time, because he held her firmly, but not uncomfortably, in place, his lips surprisingly gentle as he kissed her.
The feeling that Hermione couldn't pinpoint, the one that was neither sympathy nor pity, intensified, just a little, and she found herself kissing him back. His hand moved to her hair, his slender fingers tangling themselves in her curls. Her mind cleared of everything, and she was unaware that Apollyon Pringle was on the other side of the classroom door, trying to force his way in so he could punish them, and she was even temporarily relieved of the knowledge that the man she was allowing to kiss her was in fact a murderer.
He pulled her closer, deepening the kiss, and she let out a soft moan, her right hand finding its way to his jaw, fingers trailing along it softly.
And then he pulled away, smirking.
"Open this door right now!" Pringle hammered his fists against the wood, and Hermione was momentarily distracted from what she had just done, though his anger wasn't quite enough to quell the squirming of her insides. The door shook violently, and Pringle yelped. Apparently he had kicked it, not banking on the solid oak door doing more damage to him than he would to it.
"I know what'll break this door down!" he called through the wood.
Hermione raised her wand, and cast a Shield Charm just in front of the door. Angering inept wizards was always a bad idea. Nine times out of ten they would turn to spells they were unable to cast properly, or even if they got as far as casting them, they were certainly unable to control them.
There was a terrible crash, and Hermione knew that this time, nobody could have possibly continued to sleep through it. The door had blasted apart, but Hermione's Shield Charm had caused the panels of the door to rebound on Pringle with such force that he had been knocked into the opposite wall of the corridor, his head colliding with stone with a nasty crunch. His eyes were closed.
There was a sharp rap on her head, and Hermione looked round, to see Tom, blending in with the background, as the sensation of raw egg dripping down her body made her shiver, until eventually, she too was completely camouflaged.
"Someone will have heard that," Tom said, and he grabbed Hermione by the wrist, yanking her off of the desk, towards the door. They clambered over the rubble, careful to avoid tripping over Pringle's body, sprawled messily on the floor. They hurried along the corridor, and Tom pulled her down the stairs quickly. She looked back along the corridor and could see wandlight bobbing in the distance.
"No, I need to go upstairs," Hermione told him, wrenching her wrist out of his grip.
"The Slytherin common room is downstairs."
"Yes, but the Gryffindor tower is upstairs."
"Aren't you coming back to the dungeons with me?"
"I beg your pardon?" Hermione took a step back, frowning at him. She couldn't make out his expression, not only because of the darkness, but also because of the Disillusionment Charm that had rendered his features indistinguishable from their surroundings.
"Well," he said, and his tone was quite reasonable. "I took you to the ball, I danced with you, we kissed...I've heard to really enjoy the company of women, one has to go quite a lot further than that."
"Well one won't be going any further with me!" Hermione hissed.
"You kissed me though," he said, not managing to hide the confusion in his tone.
"No," she said. "I let you kiss me. There's a difference."
"You enjoyed it."
"You're a murderer."
"Which just makes it all the more exciting, don't you think?" His hands found her in the dark and he kissed her again, but Hermione shoved him away, and he only just caught the bannister in time to save himself from toppling down the stairs.
"I felt sorry for you," Hermione told him. "Nothing more."
"Of course, you kissed me back because you felt sorry for me."
"It's not, and you know it."
"Believe what you like," Hermione said. "I'm going back to Gryffindor tower. Don't," she added in a harsh tone, "follow me."
Tom huffed, and began walking down the staircase. Hermione squinted, trying to find his outline, just to be sure he was walking away from her. After a moment or two, when her heart had slowed and her breathing had evened out, she turned away, and distinctly heard him mutter something under his breath.